A conversation with Katie Stone, Part 1

Haley Hintze
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Published: March 30, 2022 4:35 AM EDT

Poker.org recently caught up with one of the busiest women in poker, Katie Stone, for a fun conversation about her poker career and the many twists and turns her path through the game has taken. A native of Houston and at one time a dedicated online grinder, Stone’s desire to stay in the game led her to relocate several times — even to Mexico, at one point.

Stone has also remained an active and articulate proponent for women and women’s causes in the game, even if that’s just one of many facets of her complex, analytical, and as she describes it, “visual” personality. Along the way she’s earned more and more accolades and recognition, from her two WSOP Circuit rings to her role as a sponsored partypokerBorgata pro.

In recent years, she’s become a part of the World Poker Tour (WPT) family, turning a last-second appearance as a WPT commentator into her current role as an instructor for the WPT’s LearnWPT initiative, a GTO (game theory optimal) training program designed to help common players to, as the WPT puts it, “think like a pro!” The LearnWPT platform is receiving a significant push, including live workshops at many of the locales the WPT visits. Stone is right at the heart of the effort, along with several other notable pros.

In today’s Part One, Stone shares with Poker.org how she got into poker and earned her way, over the course of several years, deep into the game’s inner circles. Getting from Houston, where she started, to Houston, where she lives now, was a complex and circuitous journey, all while the poker world itself underwent significant changes as well. Let’s check in as Stone shares some of her backstory:

Thank you for speaking with Poker.org today, Katie. We’ll start by introducing you to our readers. You’ve made poker your life for nearly two decades. You spent your early years playing online, from Houston, right? Tell us how your career started.

Stone: Yeah, so I kind of grew up in both places. I moved to Houston when I was eleven. I did middle school, high school, and then college actually in Dallas, and then stayed here in Texas for quite a bit of time after college. But my mom lived in Houston for a long time, and I lived in Dallas. And I started playing poker live, actually, in the Dallas-area card rooms. My first foray into live poker was like a bar league. It was in an early version of WPT League, which was the free poker that was around and available in some areas – I think it was in a few states, but it used to be called something else back then. 

And so that was my first live poker experience, which is so funny. Then I started playing live cash games. And pretty quickly after that, live tournaments, but very, very small tournaments like $60 and $40 dailies that they would have at these Dallas / Fort Worth card rooms. And I’m going to say my first real poker tournament came shortly after that, and then I played some [regional] ladies tournament series, and then it was in either the ‘05 or ‘06 WSOP circuit in Tunica where I played next. And then from there, I kind of played live for a little bit and then got online shortly after that.

Speaking of online, you played regularly for several years, and you were affected more than most by 2011’s Black Friday, weren’t you?

Stone: By the time Black Friday came around, I had been full time online for a good year and a half, prior to mostly being live. I was living in Dallas playing online full time and was actually in Florida for the WPC. I was there for the month in April and I got down there, sat down at my desk and logged in and I happened to log in right at the time that everything was getting shut down. So the next several months for me were kind of a little bit of a transitional period. You know, I had a house in Dallas, and I knew I wanted to continue playing online, but wasn’t 100% sure what I was going to do. So I moved to Vegas for a little bit, but then eventually moved to Mexico and was there for a couple years to continue playing online.

You also ended up in New Jersey for a while, too, right?.

Stone: Yep. So originally, I’m from New Jersey, and my husband is too, so both of the majority of our families are in New Jersey. We lived in Mexico and I played online and we went home for Christmas. It was at the end of 2013, which was about a month after New Jersey’s regulated online poker had just been introduced to the state and so we ended up, accidentally, moving home. We just left everything in Mexico and stayed in New Jersey. We liked the schedule a lot better and we were just down the street from our family. It was just easier. We ended up going back to Mexico to get our belongings. We did not just abandon our belongings in another country.

I actually went back to Mexico the following summer and played online while everybody was in Vegas playing the main event at the WSOP, because it’s a good period to play online. I had a good couple of weeks online. It was nice being able to take advantage of everyone being in Vegas. It kind of funded the trip, you know; we picked up belongings and made some money at the same time. But yeah, I was living in New Jersey then, since 2013 or the beginning of 2014. Then we moved back to Houston just this past fall; my son started kindergarten in Houston in August of 2021, so we’re based back here in Houston now.

Was it the opening of poker clubs such as here at Houston’s Prime Social, where we’re doing this chat, that was perhaps part of the incentive to come back to Houston?

Stone: It wasn’t the primary reason. Poker rooms in Houston started opening up around the exact same time I moved back to Houston for family reasons, so it was a welcomed coincidence. The poker boom in Texas, plus with my moving back to Houston, which, like I said, I just really could not have asked for better timing for having to come back to Texas. 

It’s been really amazing to watch. You know, as [tournament director Justin Hammer] came here, you saw things moving ahead toward the end of 2019. I think that’s when he had his first event, and I think I played in it. And it’s been really, really nice to see how things have progressed. 

For a tournament director of his caliber, coming from the west coast to Houston, which had not been a place that had organized poker of any kind, and for Prime to just bring in somebody who really understands how to do things correctly and how to do things right. I think it’s just a really amazing standard to set in the state. There will be other cardrooms that will open up and will try to run their own events, so it’s good that this is the standard that everybody should really adhere to and look to and understand. This is how you do things.

Now, for many years, you’ve also been a notable proponent of women in poker and of women’s causes in poker. And that dates from when the Grindettes were formed, I think?

Stone: You remember that? Oh, man. That was me and Jamie [Kerstetter] and Jen Shahade and Katie Dozier, yeah.

Is there still any synergy going on? 

Stone: Oh, yes. These are my closest girls, absolutely. We’ve kind of grown up together. Jen and I – we knew each other before that. But Jamie and Katie, we met because of poker. And, it’s just been such a great group to just be around. I knew long-term I was going to be around poker. I knew I had decided pretty early, you know, coming from chess; I had decided that I was going to give poker a try. And then I quit for a couple years in between, and then I started again, and then I’m like, “Alright, I’m gonna do it right.” 

But that was one of the realizations I had in that first, kind of fumbled start that I had, wasthat I just didn’t have a really good support group around me. I didn’t have people that I could relate to. That was one of the reasons why I formed the group. It’s a lot easier to progress in a field or an area of interest if you have like-minded people around you who are supporting you and have similar goals. The other reason I started it, too, is because at the time, this was 2011, when Grindettes formed – right before Black Friday, by the way – because I was I was on the way to the WPT in Florida, when I called them on my phone said, “I’ve got it, I’ve got an idea.”

The other reason was just because at that time, many of the, “women in poker,” who were getting all of the attention, weren’t getting that attention for being good at the game; they were getting attention for other reasons. So it just narrowed the understanding of women that existed,  what their role was in poker was – you had to look a certain way or you were kind of in a box as far as what kinds of activities women were allowed to do in the game. It also didn’t help that poker has always been known as a man’s game, kind of a “good old boy” environment as well. 

The one thing that strikes me about the Grindettes in retrospect is how articulate the group’s members were and how well you’ve all been able to both play and speak about the game. 

Stone: Sure. I mean, we all had the interest, though we all came from different backgrounds. You know, Jen Shahade – one of the most famous female chess players in the world and a brilliant author. Jamie Kerstetter is an attorney. And Katie Dozier, a published author, writer, poker coach, and also a classically-trained culinary pastry chef. Lots of different backgrounds, which was really nice, because we all were attracted to poker for one reason or another. And we all were attempting to make it our career. We all had different backgrounds that really helped us in that transition and also helped us in poker along the way.

Now, you do share a chess background with Jen Shahade, even if Jen is somewhat more known in that regard. Let’s talk chess and poker. What contrasts, and what similarities do you see between the two?

Stone: There’s definitely a lot of similarities, and then there’s a lot of differences, too. I think the area that was attractive for chess players in the beginning, to get involved with poker, at least for me, was just the understanding of  how much time would need to be put into becoming really good at something. Also, being in an area where you’re operating in a way that you’re thinking very strategically, where you’re thinking very tactically. You’re able to zoom out, so to speak, and replay things in your head and see things really easily. 

For me, there’s been another really, really nice part from chess that has helped with poker. I tend to be very visual, and I tend to think that helps with recall about hands that I played or noted clear tendencies. Pattern recognition and memory are two things that are very, very helpful and necessary in chess, and they also translate very well and are very beneficial in poker as well. So I think that chess players, being good at both the short game in tactics and simulations, if you will, are then also able to zoom out and think, “long ball” more strategically. It really, really helps.

Tomorrow’s Part Two in Poker.org’s conversation with Katie Stone continues discussing her unique history as well as moving on to her latest role within the poker world, as an instructor for LearnWPT.